At some point in your life, you may want to obtain court records for any number of reasons: professional curiosity, personal reasons, etc. The court systems are set up in such a way that anyone, yes even you, can go down and access their records. In fact, in Washington, many court records are even online! With this much access to virtually every court case heard on a daily basis, why would anyone need to hire a PI to retrieve them?
Being a PI in Washington has shown me a great deal about the criminal justice system. I have been to court to fight my own battles, to help others fight their battles, and provided support for those representing themselves. There are nuances to every court clerk and every court house that a good PI ought to know. For example, LINX (Legal Information Network Exchange) is the online system for all of Pierce County courts. A case heard Friday morning will not have certified documents available until the following Tuesday. Additionally, documents filed with the LINX system prior to 4 pm should show up the following court day. Many people expect that with an online system, what goes in should automatically be available. This is not the case. A good PI will know when your documents should be available and can inform you of their availability and even retrieve them for you.
But why use a PI?
Most people who are not involved with the legal system on a daily basis forget everything except the structure of the courts after high school government class; except those who watch Law & Order on a regular basis. They have a basic idea of how the court works and the role of the court but not a firm grasp of the knowledge required to use the court to their advantage. A good, trained, and licensed PI knows how the court operates, knows who to talk to, has developed good connections inside and outside of the court and can provide you results faster than a messenger service.
Once you obtain the records, how do you know what you’re looking at?
I remember a case where a notice came down from a judge that originated with a lawyer. The notice made mention to “MAR,” or “Mandatory Arbitration Rule.” The client read this and immediately thought that the case was going to arbitration rather than mediation or trial. However, after speaking with this client and looking up the rule cited, I informed the client that the passage was placed there as a reference that the case was not part of the MAR and therefore would be proceeding as a typical civil case. There are numerous instances in many court cases where items are included in the final documents that are for administrative purposes and have little to no bearing on the case. The technical term for this is “legal mumbo-jumbo.” We train private investigators to not only understand this language, but to write in this language, and interpret this language for our clients.
What if I want to use a PI to originate a claim in court?
Law offices use messenger services regularly to file original documents, open suits, and perform other tasks with the court. Often times these cases require service to the other party and a declaration (proof) of service. By utilizing a PI to file, serve, and then file the original declaration of service, the law firm is gaining an immense value by saving time and money and gaining piece of mind. Messenger services serve their purpose, to be sure. However, they operate on a volume scale; taking on multiple clients at a time. This approach removes the human aspect of business transactions and reduces it to simply a name on a check. Private investigation companies such as ours take a more human approach. We focus on our client’s needs and provide them with exceptional service. We have an understanding of their processes, their staff, some of their clients, and their approach to cases. A good PI will be able to anticipate the needs of the law office and make adjustments as necessary to accomplish their goals.
I had a case recently that required service on the other party and had still not been filed in court. I was asked by the law firm to serve and file the case with the superior court. After a brief discussion with the legal assistant I was able to clarify the work flow. While it is not forbidden, it is usually a good idea to file a case prior to service on the other party. This allows for an original case number stamp to be on the served copies and, more importantly, it allows for the case to be established prior to service. While this is not a hard and fast rule, it is generally the best practice.
Upon filing the case I then went to serve the other party and provide the law firm with original stamped documents from the court. This case took an interesting turn which required a PI as a professional witness. By filing the case, serving the other party, and filing the original declaration of service with the court, I was already involved in the case and needed no extra time to catch up to the facts. I was ready to hit the ground running and provide all my attention to the task at hand because I had been involved with the case from the word “go.”
Not all cases are going to require a private investigator to file or retrieve documents. However, in this case, because a PI was involved early, the law firm and the client received value added services which drastically changed the scope of the case. I was in a position to know the case from the start and did not require an hour or more of reading to catch myself up to the facts. The client was able to use my first-hand knowledge to their advantage as a witness in the case. The law firm was able to have piece of mind knowing their case was in good hands from start to finish.
In summation, most of the citizenry do not require a PI to retrieve documents or file documents for them. However, when the time does come that you need to interact with the court, it is a good idea to hire someone who knows the legal system almost as well as a lawyer. This will help you save time, money, and headaches. It may even help you understand the court system beyond what Law & Order shows on a weekly basis!